The pattern of reflex recovery during spinal shock

Spinal Cord. 1999 Jun;37(6):402-9. doi: 10.1038/


Study design: A prospective descriptive study of the course of recovery of reflexes following acute spinal cord injury (SCI).

Objectives: The purpose of the study was to observe the pattern of reflex recovery following acute SCI in order to determine the prognostic significance of reflexes for ambulation and their relationship to spinal shock.

Setting: A regional spinal cord injury center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

Methods: Fifty subjects admitted consecutively over a 9 month period and on the day of injury were observed for the following reflexes; bulbo-cavernosis (BC), delayed plantar response (DPR), cremasteric (CRM), ankle jerk (AJ), knee jerk (KJ), and normal plantar response for 5 7 days a week and 6-8 weeks duration. The 50 subjects were assessed for ambulation of 200 feet at time of discharge. MRI studies were reviewed on 13/28 complete (ASIA A) injuries.

Results: Thirty-five subjects (28 ASIA A, 4 ASIA B, 3 ASIA C) had a DPR of 2 days or longer duration and these subjects were not ambulatory. The fourteen subjects (12 ASIA D and 2 ASIA C), who were ambulatory, either had no DPR (11/14) or had a DPR of only 1 days duration (3/14). One subject (ASIA B) was not ambulatory and had a DRP of 1 days duration. The DPR was the first reflex to recover most often, followed by the BC, CRM in the first few days and later followed by the deep tendon reflexes (AJ & KJ) by 1-2 weeks respectively. Less than 8% of subjects had no reflexes on the day of injury and the reflexes did not follow a caudal-rostral pattern of recovery.

Conclusions: Prognosis for ambulation based on reflexes early after SCI should not be linked to current descriptions of spinal shock. In fact, the view of spinal shock, based on the absence of reflexes and the recovery of reflexes in a caudal to rostral sequence, is of limited clinical utility and should be discarded. The evolution of reflexes over several days following injury may be more relevant to prognosis than the use of the term spinal shock and the presence or absence of reflexes on the day of injury.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reflex, Abnormal / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric